The Women’s Rights Movement

As today is “International Women’s Day,” I thought it would be a perfect day to begin a general introduction to the Women’s Rights Movement in Canada and North America for an Anthropological Research Assignment.

Still fighting for their rights around the world, many women are still fighting for the same rights and freedoms that Canadian and other Western World women have today.

Just an aside to explain how this important day for all women started:

In 1910, a woman by the name of Clara Zetkin came up with the idea of “International Women’s Day” while attending an International Conference of “Working Women in Copenhagen.” A year later, the first official International Women’s Day was recognized on March 19, 1911 (IWD 2012).

Looking forward from that idea, in 1975 the UN declared March 8th to be “International Women’s Year” and has been celebrated on the same day every year to this day (IMD 2012).

International Women's Day

Courtesy of The Little Red Umbrella

Today, many improvements have been made to improve women’s right across the globe. Although Canada is well above many countries in this aspect, there are countries who still lag decades behind Canadian women. Not to forget, “The Women’s Rights Movement” and the “Women’s Liberation Movement”, have been very successful in the past and still stand strong today (from now on I will just refer these to the aforementioned as “women’s movements”). Their colourful and creative use of language has been very profound in both the past and the present. The creative use of words and definitions, reclaiming of words or names, and the body language have made the women’s movement so successful.

“The generative power of language comes, in part, from the ability of a single characterization or representation to invoke multiple discourses.  Race, gender, class, citizenship, and sexuality all are discursively linked.  The power of gender comes through constitutive practices that not only produce people as “naturally” women and men, but which also produce heterosexuality, homophobia, xenophobia, racism, ans class discrimination” (Pascale 2007: 77).

Stay tuned as more will be posted soon!

For further information about International Women’s Day or any information of the examples I use in my blog posts, please see the Links page for all the addresses!


Please note that due to an error in formatting, the references I am citing have indenting and spacing issues.

Literature Cited


2012   About International Women’s Day (8 March).

Pascale, Celine-Maire

2007 Making Sense of Race, Class, and Gender: Commonsense, Power, and Privilege in the United States.  New York: Taylor & Francis Group.



In Conclusion

As Canadians, we are graced with the opportunities we have today.  We have the right to vote, walk the streets, and express our thoughts and feelings.  The problem is these rights and freedoms are being abused instead of upheld.  Sexual assaults, discrimination, and rapes still occur in not just North America but around the globe.  The women`s movements of the past and present not only fought for rights and freedoms, but to ensure society remains in check and people can live in safety.  Women or minorities (gender-based or culture-based) should be allowed to walk home at any time of day or night without someone to take advantage of the situation.  The women`s movements have used creative language of all kinds from written language of memoirs and survivor stories, to reclaiming words and body language to give insight to such mistreatments.  An uncertain tone can have negative effects to the outcome of a situation but, it can be something to learn and build strength from.  Body language can give a head turning response to let everyone know the profound issues women still face around the world.  Many women around the world are beginning to take courage today to stand up and fight for what Canadians have lived with for decades.   New insights are continuing to arise, to bring forward new issues that deserve to fight for their right, their right to be heard.


More recently, a new kind of movement has risen since Take Back the Night titled Slutwalk. “On January 24th, 2011, a representative of the Toronto Police gave shocking insight into the Force’s view of sexual assault by stating: “women should … Continue reading

Finding Your Voice

The power of the written word can be very profound, but so can the power of speech.  “When pressed for concrete examples, I noted that traditional manners commonly exhibited between the sexes provide an instance of public ritualized behavior that symbolizes “something” about the cultural meanings of gender” (Parker 2009: 372).  Society has developed expectations for how people are to behave themselves; expectations of what people should or should not do, but also what is appropriate to say or not to say.  It is not a rule or law but, more of a thought that is built into the back of our minds.  Dichotomies society creates can impact what people believe to be right/wrong, good/evil and rational/non-rational (Koelsch et al. 2008: 253).  Emotions can also have an impact on how society thinks someone should feel.  An inconsistency in tone or uncertainty in what is said may result in less than expected results such as shame for something of which there was no control over.  However, it can create a lesson to learn from to strengthen a person’s character for the future.  The example of Megan in the article by Koelsch et al. (2008) demonstrated this by coming forward about an event that took place which she felt was wrong.  Unsure of the rationality of the situation, she was unsure how to express it.  Megan received less than desirable results when she came forward, despite her efforts (Koelsch et al. 2008: 257).  The experience of seeing how the tone in her unsure voice led to those undesired results, gave her the strength to improve her actions in the future (Koelsch et al. 2008: 257).

The voice can be very powerful, especially if the person behind the voice can use it with confidence.  However, when that voice lacks the confidence it needs to get the point across, the effectiveness can fade away.  One can only hope that one day the voice will gain the strength it needs to be more powerful in the future.  A person who has the strength and confidence to speak out can help those who do not to find their voice too.

Dr. Samantha Nutt

Courtesy of Shawn Jeffords of the Standard

Literature Cited

Koelsch, Lori e,  Ann Fuehrer, and Roger M. Knudson

            2008  Rational or Not? Subverting Understanding through the
            Rational/Non-rational Dichotomy.  Feminism  & Psychology 17(4): 253-259.

Parker, Seymour

1988 Rituals of Gender: A Study of Etiquette, Public Symbols and Cognition. American Anthropologist 90 (2): 372-384.

Take Back the Night

I begin with Take Back the Night, this seems an appropriate start as this movement will transform into another more recent movement (Slutwalk) that I will explain later.

Take Back the Night

Courtesy of Phong Ly / The Collegian

A quick history of Take Back the Night:

In 1976, Take Back the Night occurred in Belgium at The International Tribunal on Crimes against Women.  Other parts of Europe later that year called the movement “Reclaim the Night”.  Reclaim the Night became a movement outside of Europe reaching as far as Australia and India.  The slogan “Take Back the Night” came to North America first in 1977, in Pennsylvania, and finally reaching Canada with the first march in 1978 (Birth 2009: 3).

The main goal of this movement is to fight sexual violence against women by giving them the courage to reclaim the streets and confront their fears of rape and assault (Baluch and Singleton 2009: 10).

The slogans “Take Back the Night” and “Reclaim the Night” are very effective in portraying what the marches are, in part, about making the night safe for women again.   Another part of the Take Back the Night movement that makes it effective is through words, words of other women trying to “Shatter the Silence” (TBTN 2009).  Like the idea of memoirs, sharing thoughts and emotions through writing allows those who suffer in silence to know that they are not alone.  The power of stories can “shatter the silence” and bring a new light into the severity of the situation many women face.  To know they are not alone after being raped or sexually violated, can give victims the courage to speak out and potentially help others.  Words are powerful, they do more than help another to understand, words can also give other women, both victim and non-victim, the courage to stand up and speak.  This is what makes the movement effective, these stories show women who have been victimized that they are not alone and what happened to them will not be tolerated.

My next post will be an example of looking at language in the Women’s Movement through voice.

Literature Cited

Note that the Take Back the Night Foundation Event Guidebook can be accessed through: <>

Baluch, Suraiya and Karen Singleton

2009   The Role of Men in Take Back the Night. Take Back The Night Foundation Event Guidebook.  10-14.

Birth, Natalie

2009   History of Take Back the Night. Take Back The Night Foundation Event Guidebook. 4-6.


2009   Shatter the Silence. <;

The Unspoken Word

As I mentioned earlier, written works such as memoirs have been an important form of exchanging of thoughts and feelings in order to help strengthen group solidarity.  Here’s an excerpt from an article I found that helps to express my point of how a memoir may help contribute to the solidarity of the group by expressing thoughts and emotions:

        “The interactive patterns which characterize women’s and men’s talk can thus be interpreted as reflection the different social orientations of the speakers.  If women are concerned with solidarity and connection, it is easy to see why they tend to talk in least formal and public contexts, while the opposite tends to be true for men.  The more private the contexts, the more appropriate the focus on interpersonal, affective meanings.  The more public and formal the context, the more likely considerations of status will be relevant.  And while men appear to be comfortable contributing in contexts where demonstrating one’s expertise is acceptable behaviour, women seem to be less comfortable in such status-oriented contexts” (Holmes 1992: 134).

At times, it is easier to get feelings across in written form than in spoken content.  This is something that women seem to relate to better than men.  The written word can help to unify all women’s common goal of gender equality.

The power of writing can be summed with this quotation:

“I refuse to accept a position of no agency.  I refuse to be acted upon by structures, in any manifestation (i.e., “grabs”) that objectify, disrespect, or simply disregard me.  I choose not to be silent (even after the fact), but to respond in the best way I know how.

As for you, be grateful that I believe the pen is mightier than the sword” (Alleyne 2007).

Women’s Movements fight for a voice, a voice for those who remain unheard.  The next few posts will contain examples and stories of how language (whether it be speech, body language or the written word) is an important factor to the success and progression of women’s movements.



Literature Cited

Alleyne, Lauren K.

2007  A Grab Won’t Cure My Feminism. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly.  35 (3 & 4): 253-254.

Holmes, Janet

            1992   Women’s Talk in Public Contexts.  Discourse and Society. 3(2): 131-150.